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Gala Celebration as 1st Decade Birthright-Taglit Flight Arrives

400 lucky Birthright-Taglit program participants touched down at Ben Gurion Inernational Airport Tuesday to find a full-scale celebration.
By Hana Levi Julian and Yoni Kempinski
First Publish: 12/29/2009, 3:56 PM / Last Update: 12/29/2009, 4:32 PM

INN TV

 Four hundred lucky Birthright-Taglit program participants touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport Tuesday to find a huge celebration of the program’s first decade in full swing. 

The officials, celebrants and staffers were celebrating the fact that to date, more than a quarter of a million young Jews from around the world have enjoyed a free 10-day tour of the Jewish State, courtesy of the program.

Public Information and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and dozens of dignitaries were on hand to greet the newcomers and alumni who arrived with El Al’s “Decade Airplane.” Among those who arrived on the flight were new participants from North America, as well as alumni from the past 10 years. The ceremony to greet the new visitors included public figures, military officers, key donors and other dignitaries.

 

 

“About 12 years ago, a group of North American Jews had their own dream – that a young Jew, from anywhere in the world, should have the ability to set foot in the state that Herzl created. They wanted this opportunity to be available free of charge. They were mocked and their idea was seen as impractical and grandiose,” Edelstein said. “But this project grew from an idea to a reality. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews from around the world – and now you – have visited Israel on Birthright trips.

 

“May you learn, eat, dance, cry and sing with us during your short visit here. And in the years to come, may you continue to seek out ways to strengthen yourselves and your connection to Israel and the Jewish people.” 
They were mocked and their idea was seen as impractical and grandiose. But this project grew from an idea to a reality.

 

Record-Setting Flag

The program’s alumni from around the world joined those who now live in Israel for a tour in the “Decade Bus” that was meant to reconstruct the special experiences that transformed their lives and their feelings toward the state. But prior to setting out on the tour, another special event took place.

 

A unique Birthright-Taglit Israel “fingerprint flag” was inaugurated at the ceremony, entering the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s largest collective work of art.

 

The special flag was designed with 28,267 fingerprints of the program’s participants over the past two years, each imprinted on a small piece of paper before they returned home from Israel. The fingerprints were used to make up the two stripes and the Star of David on a large Israeli flag that measured 5 x 4 meters. The project was the brainchild of Javier Gelbwaser, who immigrated to Israel from Mexico.

 

‘A Moment of Festivity’

“This is a moment of festivity for the Jews in Israel and the Diaspora alike,” noted Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to the program, who said that he and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, both felt “fortunate” for being part of its growth. With a nod towards the worldwide economic crunch, Adelson commented, “The next decade holds many more challenges for us that I am confident we will successfully attain.”

 

The program, considered the most successful Zionist project in the Jewish world, has resulted in far higher numbers of Jewish youth supporting Israel.

 

According to a study conducted by Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University, a 50 percent higher percentage of Birthright-Taglit alumni than the general Jewish youth population express confidence in their ability to explain Israel’s position. Moreover, 40 percent of the program’s alumni revisit Israel for a second and third time, for longer durations, and subsequently bring their families with them to see the country as well, Saxe found.

 

At present, 21,000 young people had already registered for the 8,000 spots in the program that are available this season – and that only in the first 48 hours of registration in North America – as compared with a total of 14,000 registrants a year earlier.

 

Charles Bronfman, founder and co-chairman of the Birthright-Taglit program, noted, “Many thought this dream would never come true, and that a 10-day tour of Israel would never lead to change. The findings – and more importantly, the happy faces of the participants and the alumni now standing on the soil of the Holy Land, prove that the dream has come true.”